Tag Archives: love

Book Reviews: January 2016 Picture Book Roundup

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Next Month’s Holidays:

February 2: Groundhog’s Day

9781619632899Groundhog’s Day Off by Robb Pearlman and illustrated by Brett Helquist. Bloomsbury USA, 2015.

This is a book that won’t come out of its hole but once a year—and that’s sort of shame. It’s a clever, funny little book, about a groundhog who feels underappreciated so he leaves on an unplanned vacation right before his big day, leaving the town in a lurch and holding auditions for someone to replace him. He just wants the media to ask him about something other than the weather—really, he wants to be asked about himself, the personal questions, like what movies he likes and how he likes his pizza. There’s an African American female mayor and the potential for a sequel as the groundhog runs away with the Easter Bunny at the end. This is though I think the sort of picture book that gets a larger laugh from adults than it does from the kids.

***

9781580896009Groundhog’s Dilemma by Kristen Remenar and illustrated by Matt Faulkner. Charlesbridge-Penguin, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

Groundhog can never please everyone with his annual weather report. His friends think that they can change his report by currying favor with groundhog. After several attempts to explain that he does not control the weather, he only reports it—all of which are ignored—Groundhog, enjoying the place on the baseball team and the homemade pies, lets his friends think that he will be able to please them all—even when their desires conflict. As the next Groundhog’s Day approaches, Groundhog realizes that he will upset people no matter what he says—he simply cannot please everyone—and he worries that he will lose the friends whom he disappoints. He decides to be honest, to tell them that he’s sorry that he let them think that he could fix the weather for them, but that he liked being liked. I liked that though this too is a book firmly affixed to a minor holiday, the lesson is universal and applicable anytime: though the attention from making false promises may feel good for a while, it’ll eventually sour; also, you should not bring gifts or do favors for a friend because you want him to do something for you, but rather should like him for who he is. The overly flirtatious female hare is an interesting character to include in a children’s book.

***

Next Month’s Holidays:

February 14: Let Me Count the Ways

y648Where Is Love, Biscuit? by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and illustrated by Pat Schories. HarperFestival-HarperCollins, 2009. First published 2002. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This was a surprisingly everyday board book. I worried it would be too Valentine’s to be read anytime, but the story instead asks, “Where’s the love, Biscuit?” and love is found in a soft blanket, in baking cookies, in a knitted sweater. There are touch-and-feel elements on many if not all of the pages. There’s not a lot of story, really, but these were surprisingly refreshing examples on love—especially as it was on display with all of the Valentine’s Day books.

***

9780448489322Love from the Very Hungry Caterpillar adapted from Eric Carle’s works. Grosset & Dunlap-Penguin Random, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This is another book made by hijacking Eric Carle’s works and piecing them together. But unlike the Favorite Words series, this one has… sentences. Sappy text like “you are the cherry to my cake” is accompanied by the caterpillar on the cherry atop a cake and “you make my heart flutter” by the caterpillar as a butterfly and “you are the bee’s knees” by a swarm of friendly bees. It’s a sweet book to read to a beloved child or maybe to give to a sweetheart, but there’s not a lot of substance there, and I really do feel a little queasy over these Frankensteined books made from Carle’s illustrations.

***

ILYM_jacket_Final:Layout 1I Love You More by Laura Duksta and illustrated by Karen Keesler. Sourcebooks, 2009. First published 2001.

This book features a pretty cool and inventive structure. One side reads as the mother’s response to her son’s question: “How much do you love me?” Flip it over and read the son’s response to his mother when she asks the same question. The middle page bridges the two responses. The text itself is pretty… gooey. Especially on the mother’s side it sounds like that old country song: “deeper than the holler, stronger than the rivers, higher the pine trees”: “I love you higher than the highest bird ever flew. I love you taller than the tallest tree ever grew.” The son’s response is a bit more inventive and includes all the things that boys stereotypically like best: “I love you further than the furthest frog ever leaped. […] I love you louder than the loudest rocket ship ever blasted.” If you’re looking for an ooey-gooey, I-love-you-so-much-book this is a great option.

*****

9781619639225I’ll Never Let You Go by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and illustrated by Alison Brown. Bloomsbury USA, 2015.

This is another mushy, gushy, read-to-your-child story. The illustrations are of different animals with their parents, and the style is whimsical, the creatures reminiscent of plushies with their soft lines and simple faces.  The parent promises to be with the child through all of its highs and lows: “When you are excited, the world joins with you, You bounce all about—and look! I’m bouncing, too!” (We won’t talk about those commas.) “When you are sad and troubled with fears, I hold you close and dry all your tears.” Reminiscent at once of Nancy Tillman’s Wherever You Go, My Love Will Find You and Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever, I think that this book personally lives up to neither, but is simpler than either, and might be a better book than either to read with a child rather than to one—that being said, the text is very much meant to be a parent speaking. There are really just so many books about a parent promising to always love a child that it’s difficult to be outstanding in that category.

***

Making New Friends

9780399167737 Peanut Butter & Cupcake by Terry Border. Philomel-Penguin Random, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

What bothered me most about this book was the title, so this should be a pretty positive review. I understand that a title like Peanut Butter and Jelly would be more likely to get lost in the noise, but Peanut Butter and Cupcake is misleading. Cupcake’s is only a two page spread and a mention, and she’s not very welcoming to Peanut Butter, inviting him to watch her play, but warning him not to play with her (what’s more, the cupcake on the cover is by far the tastiest-looking cupcake in the book). The premise is this: Peanut Butter, new to town, wants to play but knows no one and his mom is too busy to play with him, so she sends him out to wander the town and try to make a friend. Peanut Butter approaches various other foods and gives a speech about how he has a ball and wants to play “maybe now, maybe later—or even all day” (that I can remember three days later that repeated phrase says quite a bit for the memorability of the writing—and the number of times that I read this phrase aloud). The illustrations are at least as impressive as the text—and probably more so. Done as posed photographs with food and props (paper clips for feet and hands, for example), I can only imagine how long each illustration took to get right. Clever puns pepper the text and pictures alike: Hamburger walks a pair of wiener hot dogs. Soup spells out his responses to Peanut Butter’s pleas. Cupcake plays in a sandbox of sprinkles. French Fries has to catch up with Hamburger and his hot dogs (read the sentence aloud if you don’t see the pun). Jelly eventually finds Peanut Butter and the two of them play together. The other neighborhood foods see the two of them having fun and Peanut Butter and Jelly let them all join in, taking the high road, so that everyone is enjoying themselves and each others’ company.

****

9780805098259Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato. Henry Holt-Macmillian, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

In October I was besotted with Mike Curato’s sequel to this book, Little Elliot, Big Family. Then I’d done some digging and peeked at some of the illustrations from this book found on Curato’s website. I predicted that I would love Little Elliot, Big Family more than the original—and I think that that has proved true, though maybe it’s because Big Family was the first that I found. The problem in Big City is probably more relatable to most kids.  In Little Elliot, Big City, Elliot is small and can be lost in the crowds of New York and stand unseen at the counter at the cupcake shop. He is feeling dejected when he spots Mouse, smaller even than Elliot. Mouse is hungry—hungrier than Elliot—and cannot reach the pizza slice in the park garbage bin. Elliot helps Mouse, and the two of them become friends. Together they are tall enough, and Elliot is able to buy and share his cupcake. It seems trite in a way, that Elliot’s trouble revolves around and is ultimately resolved by the acquisition of a cupcake—even if I sort of understand that that cupcake is more the culmination and physical manifestation of a heap of other troubles resulting from being too little. The illustrations are still gorgeous: vibrant and smooth, though showing less of the diversity of the city that is so wonderfully captured in Little Elliot, Big Family (though the diversity is there).

****

24819508Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2015.

My two audience members were not yet one and not yet two. This story was really too long for them, but we read it the first Wednesday after the Caldecott and Newbery winners had been chosen, and I had this, Matt de la Peña’s The Last Stop on Market Street, and Kevin Henkes’ Waiting (a Caldecott honoree) in a pile beside me. My not-yet-two year old picked out this one, and we made a pretty valiant effort to get through it (I read maybe the last two or three pages to myself, but over the course of a half hour, we made our way through the rest of the story before the kids’ interest was entirely lost to the toys behind me). Finding Winnie tells the true tale of Winnie, an orphaned bear cub from Canada, who is saved from the trapper by a soldier and accompanies his brigade to England, where they will train to fight in World War II. Winnie stays with the soldiers until they are called away to the front, then she is left in the care of the London Zoo, where she is befriended by Christopher Robin Milne, whose father A. A. Milne was inspired by their friendship to introduce us all to our friend, Winnie-the-Pooh. The frame story is told by the soldier Harry Coleburn’s great-granddaughter, the author of the book, who tells the story to her little boy, Cole. As a Caldecott winner, I was supposed to be blown away by the illustrations, which are nice, but I was more taken by the photographs in the back of the book, proving the truth of the tale, and by the tale itself, which seems almost too perfect to be real.

****

You Can Be the Hero Too

the-night-gardener-9781481439787_lgThe Night Gardener by Terry Fan and Eric Fan (the Fan Brothers). Simon & Schuster, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

I was given access through work to an unbound page proof of this book, which is due out on my birthday, actually: February 16 (Happy early birthday to me!). The illustrations are the obvious star of this book—by which I mean, I fell in love with the illustrations almost to the point that the text is irrelevant—not that the text was bad; it wasn’t, but it was overshadowed. The book tells the story of a boy who wakes to imaginative topiaries and wonders who is creating these masterpieces. He ultimately stumbles into an apprenticeship with the Night Gardener. But really, just do yourself a favor and go take a look at these whimsical, marvelous illustrations. Wonder like I do how the color palette can be at once so vibrant and so muted.

****

9780803737891Skippyjon Jones: Snow What by Judy Schachner. Dial-Penguin Random, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I really enjoyed this story and the parents really enjoyed this story, but it wasn’t holding the attention of my audience of three (two of whom admittedly were under one). I warned them and I will warn you that my Spanish is… pitiful. I studied in middle school, but it’s almost entirely washed away now. I don’t think that my poor presentation helped. I fudged my way through most of the Spanish and the Spanglish and probably pronounced a few of the words with more French or Italian than they ought to have done. Does the Spanish and Spanglish keep me from enjoying the story? In no way. Little Skippyjon is the only boy in a passel of girls, and he is outvoted when it’s time to choose a story. He storms away and invents his own tale of Snow What, where he is once again the famous swordfighter Skippito Friskito, is forced into tights by his friends the poochitos, and is forced to kiss the ice cube coffin of the princess to wake her from her cursed sleep. He cannot escape the tropes of the fairytale, but he can become the hero, can tell himself a story that focuses on the prince instead of the princess. I appreciated that this one had less stereotyping of Mexican culture than some in this series (the original tale) and I appreciated the, well, backlash to the backlash of the Disney Princess tale dominance. As important as it is for girls to see themselves as heroines, it’s just as important for boys to see themselves as heroes.  This story also highlights the great power of imagination.

****

Clever Primers

y648-19780062110589Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean. HarperCollins, 2010.

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean. HarperCollins, 2012.

Sometimes, the best review really comes from the kids. I read these two (and Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses) to a crowd of kids, who knew the stories well-enough to read pages to me, who knew the songs, and sung them for me. When the kids love the stories that much, it’s really hard to dislike them—and honestly, there’s a lot to like. I hadn’t stopped to consider that these are primers for an older crowd with a semblance of plot not usually in primers. I Love My White Shoes is the first ever Pete the Cat story and a color primer, where Pete sings about his love for his white shoes, and when he squashes strawberries, his red shoes, and when he steps in a pile of blueberries, his blue shoes. The refrain “Did Pete cry? Goodness, no. He kept walking along and singing his song” is a wonderful lesson in Hakuna matata. But really, this silly cat really ought to watch out for piles of berries. Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons is a counting and math primer. He sings another song about how he loves his buttons. The song changes to reflect the number of buttons as one after another pops off and rolls away. Both books play with words to make a surprising ending. Pete’s shoes are wet, but does he cry? Goodness no. Pete’s coat has no more buttons, but there’s still the best button of all left—his belly button! I had somehow missed these books. I don’t know how. I actually prefer the text from Kimberly Dean’s later book, Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses, because the text and story is more complex, but the lesson and theme of positivity despite circumstances is still there, but Kimberly Dean’s story lacks the primer aspect, so really I can respect both, and cheer both, and marvel that this is a picture book series that can kids can grow with in the same way that they can later grow with, say, Harry Potter.

****            ****

good-night-ct-cover-535x535Good Night Connecticut by Christina Vrba and illustrated by Anne Rosen. Good Night Books, 2009.

This book is part of a series that I think now covers all fifty states, some cities, some countries, some general locations, some general family members, some fire trucks and mermaids and dinosaurs. I’m a Nutmegger by birth and spent my childhood in the state. Much of the focus in this book is on tourist attractions more than on more general sights in the state, and many of those I’ve never visited, though I know of many of them. Most of the attractions have a short descriptor. While I haven’t seen everything listed in the book, the old stone walls, town green, beaches, and riding rings were a large part of my childhood environment. I bought this board book on a whim in a small store in Kent before leaving the state. Sometimes I just take it out to remind myself of home. This is not stellar writing, but it has nostalgia value, and it would have value as a primer for a vacation or to teach a child about her home state. It’s meant for young kids, kids who are still learning the sounds of turkeys and trains.

**

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

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Book Reviews: April Picture Book Roundup: Part One

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I read many picture books this April and so as I did in January, I’m splitting the reviews into two groups.

Les Petits Fairytales: Little Red Riding Hood by Trixie Belle and Melissa Caruso-Scott, illustrated by Oliver Lake. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 1-3.

I’ve reviewed Les Petits Fairytales on this blog before, always positively. This latest will join those ranks. Les Petits Fairytales seek to bring the classic stories down to a toddler level, taking on the style of a primer while still maintaining a story, which is something few primers bother to do. Lake’s illustrations help to offer a cohesive plot that this story even lacks in some tellings for older audiences, making the woodsman obviously a witness to the girl’s entry into the house (though one wonders why the woodsman peeks through the window at girl and “grandma”; perhaps his angle just happened to be right to glance up at them through the window, but that seems unlikely). This more than the other Les Petits Fairytales shies from the Grimm version. There is no explanation of why Grandma is not in her bed, and the wolf is merely stripped of Grandma’s clothes, her clothes returned to her, and the wolf sent slinking from the house. Personally, I can understand the desire to spare children the bloody death of a wolf on the edge of a woodsman’s ax, and I can understand not having Grandma ingested, but I would have hoped that Lake might have found a way to subtly imply these ideas. Perhaps the word “rescue” stumped him. The only images that I can concoct for “rescue” that level with Grimm’s original details is a woodsman raising his ax and looking menacing or the wolf split and Grandma rising from its stomach, and neither, but particularly the first, is an image to give children for “rescue.” Since I too am struggling, I think that you get a buy for backing out of this more gruesome ending, Mr. Lake. Still, barring the difficulties of “rescue,” I’d have liked to see Red in wolf’s fur cape by the end.

****

Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs! by Sandra Boynton. Workman, 1993. Intended audience: Ages 1-4.

This book reminds me a tiny bit of Seuss’ one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish rhyme; “Dinosaurs happy and dinosaurs sad. Dinosaurs good and dinosaurs bad. Dinosaurs big and dinosaurs tiny. Dinosaurs smooth, and dinosaurs spiny.” This is an opposites book with dinosaurs done in Boynton’s classically adorable watercolor illustrations and with her moments of humors, with dinosaurs crammed in an elevator and dinosaurs singing a dinosaur song with the text broken up and printed below musical notes as if it were a from a songbook. The book breaks the fourth wall by having the dinosaurs gather at the end to say goodbye to the reader.  Definitely more fun than the average opposites primer.

***1/2

Pete the Cat: Big Easter Adventure by Kimberly and James Dean. HarperFestival-HaperCollins, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

When did the message of Easter become one of helping others? This isn’t the only Easter-themed book I read to suggest so (so does Deborah Underwood’s Here Comes the Easter Cat). So that quibble aside and trying to force upon myself a secular idea of Easter, I suppose I cannot fault the idea of a holiday that reminds us to help others. Pete the Cat has become a well beloved figure. Dean and Dean make helping into a game for Pete, and Pete enjoys the game. With stickers and punch out cards, this might have more merit an activity book than a storybook.

***

And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2012. Intended audience: Ages 4-7, Grades Pre-K-2.

Erin Stead’s illustrations! The soft wood block and colored pencil illustrations are beautiful, and she so clearly captures my view of late winter. This is a book that I needed towards the end of the winter and beginning of spring to remind me that green was coming after all of the brown. The story is relatively simple, one of planting and waiting for a garden and waiting for spring, but the simplicity of the text complements the soft illustrations, which are highly detailed, telling a great deal of story without text, and that simplicity is wonderfully poetic. This book is really fantastically well crafted. This would be an interesting book to read as a color lesson too, though I imagine most kids, by the time they want to read a book like this one, already know their colors, and rather it would be better paired with lessons on patience and plant biology and life cycle.

****1/2

The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee. Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2013. First published 2010. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades Pre-K-3.

I’m going to go ahead and quibble with the listed intended audience here. This is a book I think that will appeal far more to parents than it will to children. This book compares a baby to a very particular CEO, and these are references that are likely to fly over the heads of children but make parents laugh at their poignant truth. Some of the vocabulary in this text is probably beyond most children too. The patterns and colors in this book along with the characters’ expressions really make the illustrations charming.

***

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2010. First published 1985. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This book has become a classic and the hub of many spinoffs. I do like the cyclical story pattern. The little mouse does pay for his cookie and milk by doing all of the chores, but this poor kid had no idea what he was getting into when he offered to share his snack. I notice he’s napping himself by the second cookie, but he never does complain about sharing or helping the mouse. The boy here is really like the parent in a parent-child relationship where the mouse is the child. It doesn’t feel like a friendship particularly, and I don’t think that it should be lauded as friendship, though potentially as an example of selfless love. This can be a fun guessing book for kids.  This is a book I would rate very differently depending upon how it’s being introduced.

***

Book Reviews: February Picture Book Roundup

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Elf on the Shelf: A Birthday Tradition by Carol V. Aebersold and Chanda A. Bell and illustrated by Coe Steinwart.  CCA and B, 2013.

This is a sequel to The Elf on the Shelf, which I reviewed in November’s roundup, and again I read this book at a story hour event.  This was a much more fun story hour event—though admittedly, it’s possible it was more fun because I’ve had more practice with story hours since.  Like The Elf on the Shelf, this book is used to explain a toy more than as a standalone book.  The book explains the elves’ birthday traditions and how a child’s elf can with Santa’s help return to the child’s home for the child’s birthday.  The elf will decorate a birthday chair for his or her child and watch the events.  The elf’s purpose here is more celebratory than policing and that is a welcome relief from the inherent creepiness of the elf on the shelf’s concept.  I thought overall that this was a better book than The Elf on the Shelf, but it was still nothing stellar.  I wonder how many children would actually be excited to see their elves some time other than the Christmas season, even donning a costume to look like a cupcake and so distancing themselves from the Christmas season and their regular role as police.  I just don’t understand this tradition.

**1/2

Love Monster by Rachel Bright.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux-MacMillan, 2012.  Intended audience: Ages 2-4, Grades Pre-K-K.

This follows the outcast Love Monster, who does not feel as cute and cuddly as the other residents of Cutesville and is not as loved as the other residents of his town.  Love Monster searches all over but only really finds someone with whom he can be comfortable when he has given up hope and ceased to look.  The text and illustrations are clever and bright as the author’s name.  Others’ reviews have talked about the ill-ease that the readers feel at the moral that Love Monster cannot be loved or find love with others who do not share his peculiarity, but that same moral reminds me of the quote by Dr. Seuss:  “We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love,” and since I feel that that particular quote very aptly sums up my friendships, I don’t mind the idea as a premise for a children’s book.

****

Forget-Me-Not: Friendship Blossoms by Michael Broad.  Sterling, 2011.

Too small, too big, too young, Forget-Me-Not the Elephant is rejected from the groups of friends already gathered together at the watering hole where his herd arrives.  Rejected, he finds himself beneath the bare trees, where he meets Cherry the Giraffe.  As the days pass by, the trees grow and change as do Cherry and Forget-Me-Not.  When the spring comes and pink blossoms cover cherry trees beneath which Cherry and Forget-Me-Not meet, the animals that had originally rejected Forget-Me-Not come to him to enjoy the cherry blossoms, but Forget-Me-Not has learned the meaning of true friendship and though he does not reject the others as they once rejected him, he cleaves to Cherry.  This is a sweet story of friendship with beautiful illustrations.  It is a sequel to Broad’s Forget-Me-Not, which I’ve not read.

****

Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too? by Eric Carle.  HarperCollins, 2002.  First published 2000.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I’m realizing that Eric Carle as much, as I remember him as this brilliant storyteller, writes bestiaries more than he writes stories.  A child could learn the names of many animals from him, but there’s just not much story there.  This one is particularly devoid of plot, having no real protagonist (unless it be the speaker).  The book ends with reminding the child of the mother’s love.

**1/2

Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket by Tatyana Feeney.  Knopf-Random, 2013.  Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

This story reminded me a particular person in my family who will remain unnamed to protect her identity—and myself from a shotgun and a shovel.  Small Bunny does everything with Blue Blanket, Small Bunny needs Blue Blanket, and Blue Blanket helps Small Bunny to do everything he does better.  But all that attention has made Blue Blanket dirty, and Small Bunny’s mother finally takes Blue Blanket away to be washed, promising that Blue Blanket will be a good as new when it is returned to Small Bunny.  When Blue Blanket comes back, however, it doesn’t smell or feel like it did, so Small Bunny has to use Blue Blanket as he used to do till Blue Blanket becomes the same dirty blanket that he loved.  It’s a sweet story.  The drawings are simple in style and color, very enjoyable, and surprisingly expressive for being so simple.  I think it’s probably important that there are books like this that say that the security object is okay and promise that that the object will not be hurt by a washing, but there are already a great number of these stories, and I don’t think that Feeney’s ranks among the most memorable.

***

How Do You Hug a Porcupine? by Laurie Isop and illustrated by Gwen Millward.  Simon & Schuster, 2011.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I read this too for a story hour book, and I’m glad that it was there on the table displaying books for Valentine’s Day because it avoided romantic or familial hugs and kisses, which I would rather leave to families to read to one another while I read something more platonic.  I liked the build of how to hug different animals before getting to the promised porcupine (though I was a bit displeased that no one wanted to hug the skunk; doesn’t the skunk want hugs?).  I liked the different ways in which the protagonist tried to make the porcupine more huggable because some of them (particularly covering each spine with a cushioning marshmallow) made me laugh, though I am glad that he needed none of these techniques, that the porcupine did not need to be altered in any way to be hugged.  It’s an enjoyable little book.  I wish I had gotten a copy in my cereal box.  I will have to look for last year’s winner in April 2015’s boxes.

****

The Kiss That Missed by David Melling.  Barron’s Educational, 2007.  First published 2002.  Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

I loved this book.  A preoccupied king, too busy with his own concerns, blows a kiss towards his son as he passes the door, but the goodnight kiss misses and is blown out the window.  A clumsy knight is summoned to follow and retrieve the kiss.  The knight must pass through many perils, but the kiss that he pursues subdues the wild beasts just as they are about to attack the knight.  The bright, expressive illustrations add humor to the already humorous text.  The king learns his lesson about taking time out of his schedule for his son, which is wonderfully encouraging and I think is as good a lesson for parents as it is a promise to the children.  It plays with the fairytale clichés creatively and well.  There’s a great deal of tension between pages—something actually rather difficult to achieve with picture books, but the monsters were painted so ferociously and the danger came so near that as I was reading I felt my heart patter a bit faster.  Without much text, characters are given a rather great deal of personality.  This is one I want to add to my library.

*****

Best Friends Pretend by Linda Leopold Strauss and illustrated by Lynn M. Munsinger.  Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2014.

This was a request from one of my visitors to the story hour.  The cover led me to believe that there would be more glitter and more shine, and first let me say that the absence of these between the covers was a letdown.  The rhyming text takes the two girls through a number of professions and roles that they pretend to take on.  I suppose I am glad that the roles portrayed are gender neutral and end with a “women can have it all” feminism, and I am also thankful for the interracial friendship, but I was not wowed by either the text or the illustrations.

***

Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman.  Feiwel & Friends-Macmillan, 2012.  First published by 2010.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades Pre-K-3.

I was prepared to hate this book for its mushy-gushy ickiness, but maybe because my extended family had recently welcomed a new baby into its midst, I loved it.  The message is such a sweet one, and you can tell from the covers of any of her books that Tillman is a singularly gifted artist.  These are inspiring words to share with children of any age, and the rhyme and rhythm make me suspect that they are words that might easily sink into a subconscious to be recalled when they are needed.

*****

Penguin in Love by Salina Yoon.  Walker-Penguin, 2013.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

In January’s roundup, I reviewed the book that kickstarted this series: Penguin and Pinecone.  I loved Penguin and Pinecone.  I was a little bit less enthused about this sequel, possibly because it ditched the message of friendship in favor of a romantic storyline that really is not ideal for the audience to which this picture book claims to cater (which, yes, I recognize many of the films for kids of this same age do, but Disney gets something of a buy for having started with fairy tale retellings).  Also, here the paraphernalia of knitting is a bit too prominent.  It feels forced, forced into the plot and superseding the plot to the detriment of the plot.  In the first book, knitting is a background theme, a way to show the passage of time, and a plot device; here it is more than that, too much.

**1/2

Challenge: Legal Theft: Goodbye (355 words)

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Turning away from the door, Kadelyn heard Noach shift as well, and realized he was watching her.  Kadelyn didn’t want to look at him.  She remained by the door with her head bowed.  He didn’t say anything.  She did not hear another whisper of linen that would have meant that he was approaching—or, she supposed, it could mean that he was moving away.  He did neither.  And she didn’t move either.

“It’s done,” she said because he deserved a report.

Still he didn’t move, didn’t say anything.

“You shouldn’t be here,” she said.

“We could have figured it out,” he groaned.

“This was easier.”

“Easier?” he yelped.

Kadelyn flinched.  “Noach, please.”  The shout could attract one of the guards.  She couldn’t stay now.  She had to go.  Whatever future they could have had together now was—

“Kadelyn,” he groaned.  “Do I really mean so little to you?”

“Noach, it’s not that—”

His boots were thunder on the floorboards.  Kadelyn covered her face with a gasp as the sting struck her behind her eyes.  She bit her lip as his hands snared her arms.  “Kadelyn, I love you.  I still love you.”

“And I love you,” she rasped.

“But you gave me up.”

She lowered her hands to meet his through the wash of tears.  “I did what I had to.  Noach, I have to go.”

“I can’t let you,” he complained.

“They’ll kill me if they find me.”

“Do they know it was you?” he worried.

“They will.  I can’t hide this forever.”

“Then,” Noach said, and he took a shaking breath.  “We’ll run.”

“No,” Kadelyn argued.  “I run.”

“You can’t run alone.  You can’t hunt, can’t talk your way into a drink, haven’t got a horse.”

“You haven’t got a horse either.”

“You’ve committed treason.  You think we’re above horse thievery?”

“That’s different.”

“If the theft of one horse is what it takes to be with you, Kadelyn, I’ll steal the king’s horse.”

Kadelyn covered a smile with a dainty hand.  “The king,” she reminded him, “won’t miss it.”

I’m a thief!  I stole this first line from “Her Vice” written by Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master.  I admit that I knew that these two were a couple.  That might’ve influenced my story a bit.  Plus it’s Valentine’s Day!  Looks like I just missed the midnight deadline.  Somehow I still ended up at rebellion and coup.

Book Reviews: June Picture Book Roundup

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This June I read a lot of picture and board books and little else.  I seem to have a harder time reviewing in depth such books, but I don’t want to utterly ignore them either, so I’ve opted for a monthly roundup of such books, each with its own brief review, starting now.  I want to mention that the idea owes some to Rick Riordan, who posts monthly brief reviews of books that he’s read.

BabyLit: Little Miss Austen: Pride & Prejudice by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver.  Gibbs Smith, 2011.

I built this book up too much in my mind and didn’t realize it was a number primer/counting book.  This book counts 1 English village, 2 rich gentlemen, 3 houses, 4 marriage proposals, 5 sisters… up to 10 thousand pounds a year!  Round about the middle—maybe it was by 6—the numbered objects became more nonsensical—horses and soldiers—unless there were actually only that many horses and soldiers mentioned in the books (which I find unlikely), then it’s rather brilliant.  I expected Pride & Prejudice to be more like the Les Petits Fairytales, the illustrations for which I find more appealing, softer, more childish, and more complete.  Some counting books are masked in a plot, but this one, while it might use a plot as its basis, cannot claim to tell the story coherently through its pages.  I have a difficult time with stories without a plot—even when I know that plot is not the point.

*1/2

Les Petits Fairytales: Sleeping Beauty by Trixie Belle, Melissa Caruso-Scott, and illustrated by Oliver Lake.  Henry Holt-Macmillain, 2013.

I’ve been reading a lot of books in this series because they are quick and I can read them while I walk them back to their assigned shelf.  I have read Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel besides.  These are board books, meant to be the earliest introductions to the fairy tales.  These are the fairy tales reduced to their simplest ideas, nouns attached to illustrations, simple and complete illustrations, not like those that are attached to Eric Carle’s Favorite Words books. Belle et al.’s books seem to invite its own retelling by a child in time, for which I’d laud it.  They cannot really be read aloud—or would be dull and extremely short to read aloud.  These are books to give to young readers or would-be readers, essentially a set of flashcards in board book form attempting to tell a tale because of their arrangement.

***

Are You a Cow? by Sandra Boynton.  Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2013.

A simple story in which the characters of Boyton’s books ask the reader if he or she is a cow, a dog, a duck, a frog, etc.  It ends with the affirmation, “You are YOU,” sure to get a giggle out of most young children, whom I’m sure will take it as a responsive, interactive book, sure to mean a little more to readers who return to it as more aware children, teens, or adults.

****

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.  Candlewick, 2011.

The illustrations say so much that the words do not.  The bear searches for his hat, asks a number of creatures whom he meets about his hat, always politely, always thanking them for their denial.  Young readers might spot the hat in the pages, might guess before the bear that the wearer’s fierce denial should be taken as an affirmative.  The bear gets the last laugh, squashing the thief and winning back his hat.  It’s a much darker book than I expected.

****

What Makes a Rainbow: A Magic Ribbon Book by Betty Ann Schwartz and illustrated by Dona Turner.  Piggy Toes, 2003.  First published 2000.

Magic ribbon is right!  If I at 23 am marveling over it, I can only imagine the wonder in the face of a child of the appropriate age.  This is meant for the very young, a concept book to teach colors, and given a loose plot to string the colors together—and what better way to string the colors together than in a rainbow?  The little rabbit asks his mother “what makes a rainbow?” and she sends him across the forest to query his friends, each of whom responds with a color needed to make up a rainbow that also happens to be their primary color. The pages are bright.  The text is nothing stellar but neither is it entirely forgettable.  With the turn of each page, the appropriate color is added via a ribbon to the rainbow growing at the top of the pages over the gutter.

***

Bluebird by Bob Staake.  Schwartz & Wade, 2013.

This is a powerful book.  I was left staring at it in my hands after I was done.  Bluebird is a wordless picture with lessons in moving past grief after a loss and death, anti-bullying, and true friendship and love.  A young boy befriends a bluebird that follows him on his way home from school through the city, even into a dark and twisted forest where they meet several bullies who throw sticks at the boy and bird.  One stick catches the bird and kills it in the air.  The bullies and the boy are appalled.  The bullies run away and the boy is left to mourn his dead friend.  Then they are descended upon by a flock of brightly colored birds that lift boy and bird into the sky where the bluebird undergoes some kind of resurrection and flies away.  I’m not entirely sure what Staake meant the ending to mean.  While the resurrection of the bird and the soaring boy give hope to children dealing with loss, I’m not sure that the ending doesn’t also give unrealistic expectations—of birds, of death, maybe even of friends, though I count myself extremely fortunate in my friends.  Yet, I cannot say that the nebulous and potentially overreaching ending much diminishes the power of the book.

****1/2

That Is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems.  Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2013.

Willems’ retells Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle-Duck, itself arguably of the Red Riding Hood tale type.  I wish I’d realized before or while reading it that that was the premise of this book.  The tale stirred distant memories, but I thought it an old Aesop’s tale maybe.  Retelling Potter is better.  Jemima was foolish and had to be rescued.  Willems’ heroine can save herself.  Not only that, she can manipulate the situation from the beginning.  Women and tricksters win!  Illustrated to remind audiences (mostly the parents who will understand the reference while the kids, I’m almost sure, will not) of silent films, this tells a common story, a fox and a mother goose meet by chance the fox invites the duck back to his home for supper.  The audience of the film within the book—a flock of young goslings whom I assumed from the get-go were the geese’s children—yell at the screen that what the characters are doing is not a good idea, really, really not a good idea, don’t do it!  In a twist both in the age-old story and my imagination and understanding, the duck throws the fox as the last ingredient into his own stew, and the chicks, it is revealed, were warning him not her of the danger.  I enjoyed the surprise, I enjoyed the twist, I enjoy it all more that I realize its inspiration.

****

The Pigeon Loves Things That Go! by Mo Willems.  Hyperion, 2005.

This book starts out simply enough, listing a few basic modes of transportation: a bus, a train, an airplane, objects that seem to catch the interest of many young boys.  Following these is a twist.  “A hot dog?  What is that doing here?”  The duckling explains that a hot dog can go too—right down into his stomach.  It works as a board book, meant to have a simplistic “plot” and a few pages, but I don’t think it would work as a hardcover, where I expect a little more.  This is a book for the very young—and the parents tired of reading books that are solely lists and in need of a good laugh; call it a variation on a theme.

****

An Elephant and Piggie Book: A Big Guy Took My Ball! by Mo Willems.  Disney-Hyperion, 2013.

Elephant Gerald and his best friend Piggie are back, and a big guy has taken Piggie’s ball.  Elephant Gerald is big too.  He’s going to get the ball back for Piggie.  But the big guy is very, very BIG, and he says it’s his ball.  Gerald returns empty-handed, but he’s soon followed by the big guy, but like many other side characters in The Elephant and Piggie books, he seeks to share Gerald and Piggie’s friendship, and whale ball is invented.  Elephant and Piggie stories are often heartwarming and always funny.  Best friends like Elephant and Piggie are hard to find—in real life or fiction.

****

Click to visit the author's page for links to order, summary, and event kit.

An Elephant and Piggie Book: Happy Pig Day! by Mo Willems.  Disney-Hyperion, 2011.

Elephant Gerald feels excluded because he’s not a pig and feels he can’t celebrate with his friend.  Gerald’s sadness makes Piggie sad too, but Happy Pig Day isn’t just for pigs.  This book shows kids how exclusion feels and reminds them to include everyone—a common theme in The Elephant and Piggie books.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Why You Didn’t Call Back (237 words)

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People vibrate at different frequencies, I’ve decided, but the frequencies shift.  Within a certain range, those frequencies can be beautiful together, notes of a chord, completing and complementing one another.

The night we met, a chance encounter, the kind with which romance novels and romantic comedy films begin, we were on the same frequency, whether by the phases of the moon, the alignment of the planets, the pollen in the air, or mere happenstance.  We leaned together, a clandestine meeting, one that shouldn’t have happened where it did.  We exchanged phone numbers in hurried whispers, looking over our shoulders, beaming, embarrassed, giggling, and thanking our good fortune, praying no one would notice, no one would interrupt.  We parted ways reluctantly.  We wouldn’t have done if the situation hadn’t been against us, if I wouldn’t have gotten in trouble for remaining together with you in the corner, our backs to the world, and our faces to one another.

A few text messages later, we met at an outdoor café, recognized one another easily, blessed the good day, sipped iced tea.

And realized that we had everything and nothing to talk about.

Nothing was wrong with the day.  Nothing was wrong with the conversation.

But the frequencies of our spirits had shifted.  Now we couldn’t hear one another, were outside one another’s ranges, and the only warmth was the sunshine on one of the first true days of spring.

Gwen yesterday stole the first line of this story to write one of her own.  Check it out on her blog, Apprentice, Never Master!  Links to all of the Legal Theft pieces from our group can also be found on Gwen’s blog.

Build Bridges Not Walls

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I’ve been prompted to reflect on the wonder of the blogging community and of little love notes.

Yesterday while mundanely and somewhat irritatedly straightening the shelves at work, I found a small index card behind a few improperly placed books.

It made me smile.  I pocketed it.  I plan to leave it for another to find when I return to work, and thus is community expanded, smiles sparked, word spread.

This is not the first time that I have found such little love notes in a bookstore.  Finding this one from Hello reminded me of a once upon a time when my sister and I discovered a few sticky notes in Borders bookstore.  What they said now I cannot say.  What we were doing in Borders I cannot now say.  I only remember that they made us smile, made us giggle, that we took pictures of them, one of which was my sister’s background for her phone for some time.

Sticky notes and index cards are not the only way to spread such smiles.  Though illegal and technically an act of vandalism I think, this one seemed a message from God when, upon parking my car for an interview, I exited the car to see this beside the driver-side door.

This one I know to be an act of vandalism, but it became inspiration for my senior class as many of us passed it daily.

It takes so little to make a person smile.  Those words of encouragement can mean so much.  How little time does it take to write a note and leave it for someone to find?  What a wonderful way to build a community.  What a way to spread love.

My friends and I have been building our own community on WordPress.  Yesterday saw the first of our large group legal theft posts.  With a group of six perhaps to become seven, our blogs have been linked to one another.  We’re building bridges not walls even across the distances that separate us, and we’re trying to let others enjoy our company too by posting all of this for the wider perusal of WordPress and the Internet.

What notes have made you smile?  How are you building bridges?